In Northern Ireland, many people are diagnosed with Dementia each year. This cruel disease can onset in the 30s, 40s and 50s; however, it is more likely to manifest in order age. In the early stages, people can become repetitive, appear confused, and experience difficulty finding the right words to use. These typical indicators of cognitive decline are often dismissed by both the sufferer and their family; however, in time, they become impossible to ignore. As the disease worsens, sufferers lose their ability to speak and understand and become increasingly dependent on others to perform simple daily tasks. Today, 20,000 people in Northern Ireland live with debilitating neurodegenerative conditions.*1
The recently published Lancet Commission Report 2020 on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care offers a glimmer of hope for patients with Dementia and their families. It maintains that it's never too late in the life course for dementia prevention'. The report suggests that a person can reduce their prospect of succumbing to this cruel disease by up to 40%, outlining 12 potentially modifiable risk factors. Interestingly, positive hearing health and the treatment of hearing loss can reduce the possibility of Dementia by up to 8%.*2
The study, conducted by an interdisciplinary team of international experts identified an increased incidence of Dementia in persons with the reduced hearing ability of 25 decibels (dB) or under (World Health Organisation (WHO) threshold for hearing loss). Moreover, studies showed a further decrease in cognition per 10 dB reduction in hearing ability.
The Lancet Commission report cites a 25-year prospective US study of 3,777 over 65's, which observed a higher prevalence of Dementia in people with hearing impairment. There is compelling evidence to suggest that positive hearing health can prevent or slow the onset and progression of cognitive decline.
It is also worth noting that the Lancet Commission Report identified depression and social isolation as modifiable risk factors and that these risk can result from hearing decline. People with hearing loss tend to avoid social gatherings and can become isolated, which can lead to depression. If you take care of your hearing health in mid-life, you may also reduce the chances of depression and isolation, reducing the cumulative risk of Dementia by up to 16%.
The Journal of the American Medical Association concurs with this theory asserting that "communication impairments caused by hearing lead to social isolation and loneliness in older adults, and epidemiologic and neuroanatomic studies have demonstrated associations between loneliness with cognitive decline and dementia." The Journal suggests that hearing impairment is independently associated with a 30% - 40% increased rate of cognitive decline. For those diagnosed with Alzheimer's and Dementia, there's no doubt that hearing loss can aggravate the symptoms of the disease. Impaired speech perception can be magnified by competing sounds, and individuals find it challenging to recognise verbal cues. Over time, they tend to withdraw from conversation and socialisation. *3
The WHO Global Action Plan on the public response to Dementia 2017-2025 intends to "Link dementia with other programmes, policies and campaigns on noncommunicable disease risk reduction and health promotion across relevant sectors". One of the objectives set out in the report is to promote "mentally stimulating activities as well as lifelong social engagement." Hearing health is an integral component of mental stimulation.*4
As scientists endeavour to understand the relationship between hearing and cognition, some experts believe that there is a parallel between hearing loss and cognitive decline and that they share a common cause. Other theoreticians believe either one or the other must be the determinant. Whatever theory you subscribe to, one fact is indisputable - there is most definitely a correlation of sorts between these two functions.
We remain optimistic that researchers will discover a cure for Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia in the not too distant future. Who knows, they may even develop a regenerative medicine that will help us to regain the grey matter ravaged by time and recover our loved ones from the grips of these behemothic diseases.
In the meantime, we should consider what we can do to protect ourselves. As a nation, we are guilty of treating health problems as opposed to preventing them. The Lancet Report offers us a roadmap to sustained cognitive wellbeing. Perhaps it's time to embrace the evidence, modify our behaviours to safeguard our future proactively.
A free hearing health check can kick-start your journey to cognitive wellbeing. Freephone us today on 08005877267 and arrange an appointment with a hearing healthcare expert at one of our clinics nationwide.